The Disneyland and the FirefliesĀ 

When light is darker than the shadows..

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The night is ablaze again. The sky burns with unsteady flickers of turquoise and emerald. It seems like the heavens are awaiting a sorcerer’s spectacle. Down on the earth, one million LED Boards, shaped like peacocks and flowers and women holding flowers, sparkle brilliantly. In the shadows echo the blissful laughters of small, rugged children….

Welcome to the Disneyland, the small travelling funfair that is set up every year in my hometown. The preparations begin a month before and a century of trucks get parked in the Rangbhoomi maidan. Workers start setting the poles and gradually we see giant swings rising up, part by part, till they are ready to launch your soul up in the sky. 

When I was a kid, I’d clutch my mother’s fingers and hop for the next 20 minutes till we reached Disneyland. It was my dream to enter the place and never leave. I so wanted to hide beneath those counters and sneak out when everybody left. I’d go on from stalls to stalls, eat everything and sneak everything and maybe even take the taking parrot home. No I won’t go home. It was a dreamy world, my own spectacle, the Disneyland. 

Then, as it happens, I grew up. The sparkles don’t attract me anymore. I stay outside, licking Ice Golas with my friends, discussing the outrageous pricing policies of Samosa Vendors in the fair. 

“The same Ice Gola would cost double inside that little tent. “Atif says as he crushes the ice to make a solution. 

“They wouldn’t call it Ice Gola inside that little tent. It’d be a Ferrero Ice or something. ”

We laugh at this silly joke and carry on. 

Last night, my friends desperately wanted some cigarettes. I accompanied them to the kiosk in front of the Disneyland and they made a face and said,

“Ravish. You never gave us a treat. ”

I knew those bastards were asking me to pay for their cigarettes. I could have refused but it wouldn’t have changed anything. So they bought two goldflakes and vanished into the distant shadows to blow up giant smoke rings, feel weightless and heavenly as their souls floated and their lungs rotted. 

I meandered about, watching those lightboards, and how those lit the empty sky but left the crumbling earth with a sad silent bleakness. 

The world above my chest was a world of light. The kids in front of my eyes, however, weren’t tall enough. They hid behind the cars, chasing each other, playing hide and seek, running with unrestrained shrieks of laughter. They collided with light occasionally, exposing their boney frames, their tattered clothes, their immortal smile, but the next moment they disappeared again. When you stared hard you could make out their existence. There was a time my eyes would follow the lights, but age changes your perspective. Now shadows attract me more. I followed those happy little kids and all those people who lived in the mini slum at the periphery of Rangbhoomi, all of them enjoying their own picnic on the carpets of grass, talking amongst themselves sitting in the dark and watching the lighted sky. 

I wished I could listen to them, the things they talk, the jokes they crack. But no matter how close I went, the posh roar of Disneyland buried their feeble whispers. The crackles and the joy, everything seemed muted, yet unwavering. The delight was pure. But the dazzling lights exposed their misery. I could see their wounds, the gradual, persistent erosions that had washed away their layers, but not the souls. Perhaps they were the lives of the shadows, it was the light that made them look ugly. 

The world of light is actually darker. Full of shadows sneaking about, wearing a million faces, sneering, jabbing, lying, squabbling. 

The people in front of me were the fireflies of dark

“Do you have more money, we got to have chewing gums? “My friends asked.

“Fuck off. “I said and we moved. 

The kid inside me jerked to life again. But this time, I didn’t want to stay in Disneyland all my life. I wanted to stay in the shadows, with those fireflies… 

31st May 2016

The infant blinked quietly in her arms. Another kid, whose head would reach my knee cap, sat beside the eldest one. They were looking at me.

31st May 2016
Today evening, I decided that life was brutal and unfair. And that I needed huge chunks of dark chocolates to kill this unbearable depression. After stuffing my pocket with a few bucks, I slid out of the door. In the backdrop of these glossy towers of Ghaziyabad, you’ll see tarnished houses. Sheets of plastic, tattered clothes patched together to shelter misery. I walked through those lanes, which reeked of poverty and compromises. Lined on both sides of the road, these houses remind you of slums you see on the shiny LCD screens, perched on your sofa, munching popcorns. There were stunted kids rolling in the sand, some playing with wooden sticks. A girl clad in shabby clothes sat on a swing made of shabbier clothes tied end to end in a rope. Old people sat on khats and talked. Some just lay there, squatting off flies. Life here, somehow, seems dwarf against that in the sky-touching buildings.

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I passed through the darkness and stepped into the light. Just by a crossroad, a small boy – hardly 10 – sat there, grilling corncobs (bhutta ). He sat there alone, fanning the smouldering coals and waiting expectantly for a customer. His face was covered in sweat and he stared out blankly. People jogged past, never throwing him a glance. He still waited, eyeing every single one of us. And then, his gaze fell on me. The same expectant look. I clenched the notes in my pocket and reminded myself of the dark chocolate I would be relishing in a few minutes. I passed him.
I don’t know why, but my legs felt weaker than before. Thoughts flooded my mind. What if he doesn’t get any customer today? What if he’s an orphan? What if he was really expecting me to buy the corncobs? What if he hasn’t made enough money to feed himself? He was so lanky. Did I just steal his chance of eating a loaf of bread? Did I just walk away from a little boy who deserved a life better than that?
I wheeled. I went back. He was selling ten a piece. I told him to cook five. He nodded and began grilling the first two. His face carried the crumbling innocence of a child, a child who’s raised along those stinky lanes, in the backdrop of glossy towers. I dared a few questions. He said he has a family and his father makes houses. He hails from Saharsa and has siblings. And then, he turned to fanning the coals again, quietly watching the charcoal pieces glowing amber. His eyes had the faintest glint of hope. I wondered if I should give him a few extra bucks. But his face sweated with pride. He was not a beggar. He made his own money. And so, I decided against it.
While he was on the last piece, his siblings joined him. A girl – probably 8 – carried her infant brother. Her cheeks were smeared with dirt. The infant blinked quietly in her arms. Another kid, whose head would reach my knee cap, sat beside the eldest one. They were looking at me. All of those scrawny little bodies. All of those six vacant eyes. Not uttering a word, just gazing as if trying to ask a question. I shuddered.
People cry over marks. People cry over breakups. However, standing in front of those withered children, trying to meet their gaze, realizing how desperately you want to do something for them and then swallowing the heartwrenching fact that you can do nothing more than buying those corncobs, you will feel your ribs snap and your heart break. You’ll get goosebumps….
As I walked back to the apartment and the life I lived in, I watched them through the corner of my eyes. They were huddled up together, quiet and still, looking for someone who’d buy their corncobs…